31 January 2012

Early NCAA thoughts

My rankings so far

1) Ohio State
2) Kentucky
(smallish gap)
3) Kansas
3) Syracuse
5) Wisconsin
6) Michigan St (about to drop some after losing to Illinois on the road though)
7) North Carolina
8) Missouri
9) Baylor
10) Florida
10) Indiana
12) Wichita St
13) Duke
14) Marquette
15) UNLV
15) Florida St
17) Saint Louis
18) Georgetown
19) St Marys
20) Creighton
21) California
22) New Mexico
23) Virginia
24) Alabama
25) Texas
26) Kansas St
27) Memphis

Some surprises up there:
Middle Tennessee State at 32, Murray St (undefeated still) at 42, Belmont at 37, Iona at 43, San Diego St all the way down at 51, along with Southern Miss at 47.

Basic impressions. The bubble is very, very weak this year. Either that or middle major to tiny conferences have some very solid teams in them. Probably both. The Pac (12) continues to be a disappointment. It's usually underrated in RPI. This year it's just bad. The SEC has made a comeback after being weak last year. I'm confused why the Big Ten and Big 12 don't just switch names for their conferences, but they both are in a have and have-not status. Big East probably won't get more than 7 but Cincinnati is really hated by RPI for some reason, likely unfairly. It also hates Texas.

Bubble Watch suggests that even some teams that are highly rated here haven't had much on their actual resumes yet, and also has some highly rated teams that don't even show up on my radar (Colorado State, I'm looking in your direction, Southern Miss also. Colorado St is around 90th on my list, RPI has them at 17?).

SoTU 2012

I haven't had much to say about this. It's largely because the speech read and sounded like a campaign stump speech more so than is typical for Obama. Kind of like a Clinton speech actually now that I've recalled some of the days of Bill's oratory.

Some thoughts though. I really hated the protectionist rhetoric and industrial policy segments. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of economists who didn't, even on the left. Personally I usually hate the protectionist parts. It's one thing to call on the ingenuity and hard-working spirits of mythical Americans typically invoked in such speeches. It's quite another to suggest political strategies in trade that somehow "benefit" them that don't involve mutual and mostly free trade accords with other nations. Because I'm not aware of any. It's a further strangeness to call for more manufacturing jobs. Steve Jobs' point some months ago was right. Those jobs are gone. Fuck it and forget about it. Learning to do something else is a far stronger industrial policy. Americans still make lots of things here, but with far fewer workers and a lot more robots and computer programmes. That's not the strangest part though. The real strange part isn't so much the divorce from reality of manufacturing today it suggests, but the feature that somehow manufacturing jobs should be favoured by government largess in the first place. That's a bug, not a feature. If we should be favouring anything, it would be high-tech jobs in fields like biochemistry and various types of engineering. And that's a very strong "if we should be" qualifier. The best thing we could be doing for growth in these areas is a) dramatically expand the number of H1 visas we issue for immigrants and b) dramatically improve our primary education system, in the areas of math and science in particular, so more "American" students are prepared to enter these fields. Or others that will inevitably appear 20 or 30 years from now. We wouldn't need to mess with anything besides that. The whole increasing complexity of the tax code does little to create innovation and stimulate job growth anyway. It simply entrenches current economic power within the available players and shuts down others from getting into it.

This is just as true regarding environmental policies as it is for manufacturing. The safest way to realistically shift environmental policy away from oil or coal is actually to decrease the amount of existing tax credits already in the system for things like ethanol, oil, and coal, not grant new but smaller tax credits for solar or wind power, and to decrease the number of federal regulatory agencies involved in things like nuclear or hydroelectric power to boot in order to make smaller scale generation of power by these means possible in the nearer term while more solar or wind power comes on line and newer batteries or smart grids are created (along with California not encouraging people to move to Arizona or Nevada or Texas with its stringent land use policies, but that's a state matter).

Secondly, I'm greatly disappointed in the Iran war drums. I'd have thought Obama was smarter than that after Egypt, but not so much after Libya. One could write this off as campaign statements to garner the "rally around the flag" voters who like wars so much. But the evidence suggests that voters are weary of wars, and soldiers and their families in particular are weary of enduring them in their endless state by which we now conduct them. One could theorize that people believe that bombing Iranian nuclear sites wouldn't start another shooting war. But that theory would be wrong. One could also theorize that bombing these sites would matter very much. But that theory also would be wrong. Available evidence suggests a) that Iran is doing something related to nuclear technology, but more likely targeting breakout capability than an actual weapon, as there is less public support for nuclear weapons than nuclear power, b) Iran is still pretty far away from either, relatively so that it might not even matter in any putative Obama second term, c) our joint campaign with the Israelis of shadow warfare (cyberwarfare, espionage, assassinations of scientists) is about as effective as dropping bombs would be for delaying any hostile action of nuclear science (ie, creating a real bomb). Without the higher cost in diplomatic and fiscal consequences, and finally d) Iranian nuclear weapons do not threaten American security or interests. They threaten Israeli security or interests, but Israel can handle itself to defend itself against Iran, to retaliate if necessary, and could rely on international support (probably including most of the Arab states too) were it to be attacked by Iran in such a way. Even if it were through irregular forces like Hamas or Hezbollah. Iran is mostly a pariah state, but it would really be a pariah state if it attacked.

Perhaps assuming total rationality from actors playing the part of Iran's power structure is implausible, but it's still not a threat WE need to be worrying about even if the threat is far more real than the creation of a nuclear deterrent power in the Middle East that isn't a US client state (ie, Israel).

28 January 2012

Things, they are a happening

Various gleanings from the world about.

1) Charles Murray's thesis, as usual for Charles Murray, makes no sense.

I think it is worth noting that "elites" more broadly should be skeptical of imposing their preferences or presuming their preferences exist and should exist within non-elites (ie, those dirty commoners"). I'm not sure that it makes any sense that these elites should be at least partially acquainted with the culture of non-elites in order to do so. It would make more sense instead for elites to be less interested in fiddling with the lives of non-elites than that they could somehow magically discern preferences had they more of the common stuff going on in their lives and histories. The foremost situation where this is a concern is in dealing with the preferences of the poor and especially communities of the poor versus anywhere else in society. And in that instance, I'm skeptical not just of elites not understanding preferences but of the middle class itself not understanding such preferences.

Additionally, there are problems related to the sorts of questions that Murray picks. There are no sports questions for instance (or at least, the only sports-related question involved nascar). Following football instead of tennis or golf, or simply following UFC or boxing, etc, would strike me as relative elite/non-elite divides that could exist. Perhaps elites follow sports in sufficient numbers to make these less relevant divisions, but I doubt it. Asking questions about TV watching habits, both number of hours and types of shows, likewise would strike me as a pretty useful heuristic. Asking about politics, Murray asks if people have "a friend who disagrees with them". I'm pretty sure this is more likely among elites firstly, and in most cases, "that's because I'm the weirdo. If it weren't for me, my friends would have nobody who disagrees with them." Likewise, I'm not sure that filtering for manufacturing work is a useful idea. Most Americans don't work in factories anymore. Their grandparents might have, but even our parents' generation is less likely to have even short-term factory work in their distant past, much less their present. Physical labour is useful to note, but factories are not.

The one essential factor that could be pulled out from this is that we would probably benefit as a society if, instead race being the principle factor, things like poverty or "class" were used instead (with the caveat that naturally poverty afflicts urban areas and thus minorities more readily). Poor urban mostly black schools are roughly as bad off as some poor rural mostly white schools for instance. Home schooled kids from an evangelical background would probably benefit from being intermingled with the general population at a university just as much, and college kids themselves would be "challenged" with the viewpoints and ideas that back such upbringings and would thus become more aware of, and sometimes sympathetic to, the diverse range of intellectual views available to the general population. Even if they remain unsympathetic to some of those views specifically, the range is a difficulty for imposing policy choices through voting and elections. Maybe that's what Murray was trying to do with his work, but he was, apparently, rather sloppy about it.

(and of course, in order to make any of that possible at places like Harvard in the first place, we'd have to massively improve our primary education systems such that poorer kids would have a fighting chance of getting in and sticking around using the skills they have acquired).

2) Immigration is a moral and economic good. To say nothing of the diverse intellectual and cultural boons it can bring. Why we chose the policies we do to restrict it should be a serious question before we arrive at whether we should.

3) I look forward to being able to cloak myself invisibly. But it doesn't sound like it's going to happen very soon. Yet. Bouncing microwaves off a refractive material however is promising.

4) I care a LOT more about a building collapsing in Rio than a boat sinking. First because it sounds like more people died from the former, so on net, that's more disconcerting. Second because building codes and enforcement are likely a much more widespread problem and thus a public source of danger than some idiot captain deciding to sink his cruise ship. One need only compare the difference in catastrophic damage between earthquakes in Haiti and in Chile during the same year to see some evidence here of what this means. Presumably the one is a bigger story because cruise ship passengers are likelier richer and more media connected than are Rio slum dwellers. But losing one's luggage and vacation, while unpleasant and undesirable, is not the same as being in mortal danger and losing one's home.

24 January 2012

Reagan is not Voldemort

So saying his name a bunch of times isn't going to make him appear nor smote your enemies in ruin.

More to the point, Reagan's legacy is very different than his actual record as a political figure. So saying his name does invoke some mythological figure to conservatives, but doesn't actually involve any actual policies. I'm beginning to realize that much of the problem with politics in this country is that it doesn't involve policy. At all. Conservatives do not take seriously the idea of governing to begin with, but they don't appear especially prone to voting in a manner that involves rejecting some of their supposed principles in any way that liberals somehow magically do not.

There's a reason I find symbolic acts among the most repulsive form of governance, and thus why appealing to the symbolism of a movement (where Reagan the man has been ignored and transformed in favor of Reagan a myth) is also deeply annoying to me. Because I actually care about what the policies are and how they affect other people. I take seriously the idea that, in a democracy, one's ability to vote implies a responsibility in understanding what their preferences when voting would actually do to others and impose on them as legal penalties or responsibilities, should those preferences become enacted as law. Most people it seems are comfortable with useless signaling that "the government" cares about a particular problem. So we get rent controls or minimum wage laws from one side and dramatic police SWAT raids on non-violent drug offenders and home poker tournaments from the other. And no actual solutions, no interest in an efficient government that uses its resources in a manner that takes account that they are somewhat limited (hence, "conservatives" pandering on yet more foolish investment into NASA moonbases and Mars missions and freely fight over expressed intentions on starting a foolish war with Iran to boot), and no public engagement on issues of government structure and power or how it uses these.

Most people are totally unaware of what the government spends money on (medicare?), and thus what it actually does (and cannot do), and so the process continues unabated. Most people are unaware of who is actually taxing them or charging them fees, and blame the most visible politicians (Congress, President), rather than their local mayor or city council or maybe the governor of a state, or more likely local and state official positions that they are only vaguely aware exist in the first place, if at all. More people call for "there ought to be a law", and ignore how that law could be mechanically used by others in ways that they did not intend, or that their intentions themselves were inconsistent and useless gestures that certainly inform others of their private preferences but fail to make a logical case for legal actions and sanctioning of others (see: gay marriage laws, counter-terrorism policies, bans on burqas and hajibs, secondhand smoke bans and now there are calls for perfume bans). Symbolism, the idea that you care about an issue enough that it should be a law, is saying something is more important than worrying about implementation, or the law's effect on the actual issue, and that we should DO SOMETHING. Very often, "something" is what you will get, rather than demanding "something that will work". 

This flaw even extends to political choices I might be more in agreement with, for example the California law attempting to legalise marijuana that appeared on the ballot was sloppily written and had some strange provisions. People couldn't be fired for failing drug tests with marijuana positives for example. I would agree we need better testing measures to do this accurately when eating poppy seed dressing or bagels can fail a test, to better assess when people are using because of the way THC works to deal with issues of intoxication while driving or working, that we should probably have some method of appealing available or to push people into rehab or treatment programmes for drug abuse as an option beneath dismissal from a company, or understand that some people have medical justifications that might be available (some forms of autism seem to be improved with manageable doses, likewise many opiate based drugs can be useful for pain management), that many companies or employers shouldn't need to bother testing their employees for this or most any other intoxicating substance (for example, we shouldn't bother testing most athletes or academics), or when they do have need, have just as much incentive to test for high levels of alcohol use (truck drivers or factory workers doing potentially hazardous physical labours), but the idea that an employer cannot and could not fire you for drug use is utterly stupid. It's a symbolic inclusion of a policy choice to suggest that drug use is totally normal and safe rather than something that people willingly can do to alter their mental state, ideally in a responsible way (eg, at home or in the mutual company of friends or family without the prospect of assaulting or harming them through such use) but which carries with it some obvious risk effect on "health" through altering one's mental state and in some cases, that of a medical addiction problem, both of which could need to be ameliorated in some way and may even pose unacceptable risks to some people. We can have no grounds for a legal quarrel with the personal choice of some to do such things as private citizens and yet still have legitimate grounds to wish to see them dismissed from our employment should they continue to do them. Focus on the simplest form, getting a narcotic drug legalised, first. That's an actual policy choice with real world impacts that actually matter for everyone (less militarized and invasive police tactics, a modest ability to reduce violence within immigration issue, legal access to a modestly safe mind-altering chemical should they wish it, ability to license to try to constrain access for minors without actual medical reasons, etc).

I want the real world impacts. Not the symbolism from coming your own political movements.

23 January 2012

Some words. Excellent they are

Patriotism, in my eyes, has always been about the strength of seeing those rough spots, of  considering your home at its worse, and still loving it. That is how we love our daughters, our husbands, our mothers. That is how we make family.

The overall critique of the Paul-ites relating to the Civil War, Lincoln, etc is usually troubling. It is proper to question why over half a million lives had to be ended through a terrible series of battles and privations within our country's own borders. It is not proper to pose this question as though it was merely a war of choice fought by Unionists or abolitionists. It was a real shooting war started by secessionists, and fought diligently for years with but one overriding principle (that Lincoln hated slavery and thus the South and that his election was a slap to the honor and privileges that the Southern white population enjoyed in the US government, namely that their "peculiar institution" was protected by Constitutional safeguards). However noble the premises of a decentralised government may be as expressed in the quaint political notion of "state's rights", in the particulars, there were no more important or more expressed or more struggled over issues of those rights than the rights given by some states to some peoples among them to own and possess other human beings. An appropriate critique of the "lost cause" of the Confederacy, or of the causes of the Civil War, or over its innate necessity in history vis a vis conflicts of any kind, demands that one would have to honor not merely the bravest and noblest examples of our humanity, through the dignity or courage of soldiers at arms for example, but also to contend with our most vile and disgusting, through the firebrand speeches spreading groundless fears (as we have today still in many forums debating the nature of ordinary Muslims) and expounding on the supposed virtuous nature of the role of the slave holder to the slave himself.

Comfort is easily achieved by believing our heroes to be always marble and heroic, and to sweep over the ugly warts and unpleasant truths in search of a more favoured fiction about their nobility, and there to dwell in perfect security over our nostalgic demands. Reality is not comfortable however.

Some notes on ethics

1) I'm not sure that the general public's tendency to evaluate the "character" of political figures is always a useful heuristic on which to assess either shared values or especially eventual policy positions. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's practically useless. That said, there is some validity to the notion that someone who is at least slimy and suspicious in their personal lives has some slime and suspicion to their political views. It is just not nearly as useful a notion as is commonly applied.

2) If Gingrich did ask his then wife for an open relationship, a) that's not a new news story (it appeared in an Esquire story over 2 years ago) and b) it's not particularly troubling morally and ethically by itself as some sort of salacious detail.. The troubling part is that he asked AFTER he had been carrying on an affair for several years, and after they were already married. More people approaching this question in the manner of Newt or other routine philandering types should look to either a) not get married in the first place or b) be open about the possibility and likelihood of their philandering ways with potential spouses who could then make something approaching a rational choice to either accept, moderate, control, or reject this behavior.

3) The actual significance of it for Newt is that he is marginally infamous for his public attempts to castigate other political figures for their "moral failings" (ie, affairs and infidelity). There are a number of GOP figures (Mark Sanford, David Vitter, etc) for whom this is a strange position as a result.

4) To me, there are numerous ethical failures relating to an over inflated conception of the offices of government as laid out in the Constitution and a respect for said institutions that are far more troubling than how he ran his private life. For example his pandering on "activist judges" and subsequent calls to reign in the independence of the judicial branch, one of the hallmarks of the American system of governance (which is to say nothing of the meaninglessness of the term "activist judges" in the first place). Or his idiotic conception of freedom of religion that somehow does not or should not apply to Muslims, or should do so only within some constrained version of international reciprocity (which is a perverse way to apply international laws in order to restrict human liberty). And so on (embrace of torture, use of civilian review boards for immigration status with an implied emphasis on their religious affiliation being a litmus test). 

This is to say nothing of his egomaniacal attitude toward... other human beings generally, or his ethical violations while in office in Congress, or his gross defense of his lobbying, and subsequent "pious baloney" that he somehow represents the Washingtonian outsider in this race.

The one positive benefit that could be derived from a Gingrich nomination is that he is likelier to be defeated than Romney (presuming economic conditions remain roughly what they are, on a slow growth trendline) and that the politics of ressentiment will have to subside rather than dig in. While this would be beneficial to libertarians and progressives alike, for reactionary conservative politics to receive some form of comeuppance and rejection by being utterly repudiated in the polls, I'm not sure that we want someone like this, this close to the Presidency to receive a major party nomination. Nixon might have been the last such individual, and even Nixon had the sanity to have his (numerous) insane moments in the privacy of his office, as recorded, rather than airing them flagrantly and publicly reveling in his own stew. Also, it didn't work out so well for the country to give Tricky Dick the reigns.

There's some fortune in the amount of disdain the general public has for Newt, but I'm not sure that a) the GOP is that stupid to put him forward as the candidate. The base might be, but I doubt they have no sharp operators at all over there to work to prevent it. Romney's negative ads worked, and the dogpile of Paul or Santorum against him when he has been a front runner is likely to add to the flames that are so easily started around his campaign. Expect if he wins Florida for the fires to start in earnest to prevent his ascension b) his debate performances will likely not work in a general election. The GOP line is that Obama is stupid and would be easily defeated by an "intellectual" like Newt. That is a gross miscalculation of one's opponent. It's also only possible because of Newt's overinflated sense of intelligence and reputation (ill-gotten) as a man of ideas. I'm not sure that any of the GOP field has possessed the intellectual subtleties to win interparty debates consistently, but Newt is hardly distinguished among said field. He hasn't been proposing new and innovative ideas. He's just been playing the "media is evil liberals" card over and over again. The general public doesn't eat that up the way the Faux audience does. It also doesn't want moonbases or overturning child labor laws (no matter what well-intentioned basis is used for doing so, which Newt does not have one). These are not transformative and powerful ideas. They're the stuff of Bond villains or bad Indiana Jones movies. The biggest flaw in the GOP if it were to put this man forward is in the old maxim: "It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." They would not know themselves, nor understand their opponents. Victories in such contests are possible only through extraordinary circumstances (ie, "luck").

19 January 2012

Ongoing war of thought

Recent debates have shown me that many liberal/progressives are utterly hostile to the idea that their well-meaning desire for regulations is backfiring in any way. They are usually in fact hostage to the special interests that use them as anti-market competitive practices, and regulations are often not in fact used to increase public good and safety in any appreciable way, but rather to increase profits, wages, or sales for existing firms at the expense of competitive firms by establishing significant barriers to entry. Usually in the form of legal spaghetti one must cut through to attain access.

For example, while there are professions which we might think require at least modest levels of competence overseen by a state board of some kind, there is plenty of low hanging fruit that is less obvious where the public could even be harmed. On the positive side of the ledger we have doctors. The argument here is not as strong as many perceive it to be; that unlicensed by the state medical doctors are an enormous risk and menace to the public. But largely this is because modern medicine is overrated and the public has developed an abiding faith that doctors have magical healing powers that they do not in fact possess. In other words, the gain of medical training is positive. It tends to minimize people from worrying about what they've diagnosed themselves with on Web MD and allows for technical expertise at many surgical procedures that may or may not improve lives. But on many issues of medical expertise, experts are divided, evidence is slim, medications are minimally effective, if it all, and expensive, and the medical sciences become more of a medical art. Where the impact is placebo and a good rapport with one's caregivers more than anything definitive that was provided in actual care. We have minimal power over most viral infections and many forms of cancer, if any, and all we can usually offer in tangible terms is the alleviation of human suffering while the body attempts to fight off such infections and mutations. It's hard to see what advanced special training is required to offer successful palliative care at this level, much less that a license would be required to apply it (parents with some medical knowledge could do just as well at keeping a sick child armed with drinking fluids and expectorants for a common cold for example).

So. To point out some problems here, one of the most practical issues facing the country economically is rampant use of state licensing. When nearly 30% of the overall workforce requires a form of certification from the state to work, chances are that most industries are rent-seeking and jacking up profits rather than providing a decent benefit to the public by screening out unfit and under-qualified workers, or entire firms, in their fields. I haven't gone through personally every field that is so licensed by the state at some level, but doctors to me are about the only field where a plausible argument of public harm even emerges and where there might be any evidence marshaled to defend it. I'm fairly certain that 30% of our work force is not doctors, or nurses, or even just works generally in the medical field (dentists for example). So what we're left with is the state licensing for people to shampoo or cut hair, to decorate homes, to start moving companies, and so on down the line. There might be arguments for industries to accord themselves with minimal competency tests in fields like accounting, teaching, or the aforementioned cutting hair, but all of these are fields also licensed by the state in some manner. Not a mere certification of competency to advertise one's acquired skills to potential clients or firms, but a state license is required.

Are there substantial public risks involved here? The complexity and onerous nature of the individual tax code already baffles even these competent accountants all too frequently. Still, for most people, a much more simple tax form is sufficient to file an accurate tax return with the IRS. They receive wages which are reported to the government by their employer, and their deductions are plain (have mortgage, have children, have spouse, etc). Do we need licensed CPAs for that? Most people can do it themselves had they the mathematical acumen or a simple computer programme. Where someone has the money and assets to have more complex returns, they're likely to require more knowledge. But they would be free to seek it out and are already at risk even from the supposedly competent. What of teachers? There seem legions of stories of woefully poor or unconcerned teachers in public schools. How did they get there if they were licensed by a state entity? How do they stay there?

What seems clear is that the licensing requirement is tied in with higher levels of education for many of these fields. Completing and attaining such levels of education should be sufficient claim to basic certification for potential employers in these fields than is a state required exam, or should that be insufficient, an industry standard exam could substitute just as easily. The argument for requiring state licensing however requires an argument that there are substantive harms to the general public caused by non-licensed competitors having easier access to the field. In most fields, such evidence of harm is scant or non-existent. Even for fields one would expect some harm to appear such as a difference between lower certified dental assistants and dentists, the evidence does not exist. In most fields in fact, the evidence is that the higher prices charged by state license holders is a greater harm to the public than is putatively prevented through these licensing boards (decreasing access to dental or health care is a bigger public harm than the possibility of malpractice events). Whatever well-meaning intentions are involved here, if there is no evidence of a market failure, and there appears to be evidence of a market capture of the regulation, we are probably better off letting these ships sail than fighting over them.

18 January 2012

List of things I don't get

1) I realize Romney is tone deaf and I can see where a Democratic campaign might make rhetorical hay out of his "vulture capitalism". I don't understand why he can't explain what actual market function that serves. Being able to break up and wind down over extended or even failing corporations is an essential feature of creative destruction, which is an essential feature of a vital and dynamic economy capable of growth and development. The supposition is that he destroyed thousands of jobs. First, the reality is that most of those jobs would have gone away anyway as a company restructured itself repeatedly through its death throes. Second, destroying or breaking up a company implies two other things. A) that there are jobs available to take down any infrastructure or to purchase it and repurpose it for new business ventures or b) that the company probably failed because of new industries or new competitive players. Sears is still around but it's no longer the dominating player in retail it was 40 or 50 years ago. Wal-Mart took that spot. Borders is gone, but Amazon took over. Horse and carriage are gone, but cars and trucks are here. And so on. The implication is that jobs when they are destroyed are not replaced in some other way. They tend to be.They are however not always the same jobs. One of the problems with our present economy seems to be a systemic unemployment situation. America still makes lots of goods and products, but we don't need as many unskilled human laborers to do so, so there are fewer manufacturing jobs available. We have a surplus of houses (and a government insistent on not letting that market price fall enough to begin to clear), so we don't need as many construction workers or electricians and contractors. And so on. Now. This isn't terribly different from in the past. We used to have mostly farmers or plantation "workers" (slaves that is). Then everybody went to work in factories. Now we don't have as many factories or at least as many needed workers for factories. They will need to go do something else. That's the actual economic problem that needs to be addressed is how to preserve human capital in unemployed workers and allow them to repurpose themselves for future employment if their capital is in now useless fields. Horse and buggy manufacturers surely went mostly bankrupt when the automobile became mainstreamed. Nobody cries for them now. We now have lots of health care jobs, of tech jobs, and so on. At some level we should be talking about how to prepare people for even the most basic of these fields. And that's a lot harder than talking about the tax code or about "regulations", as both parties seem content to do. A further related topic with such firms like Bain would be to discuss the tax treatment of capital accumulations or of payouts to hedge fund management and equity management types as individuals. This is happening, but it's kind of in the weeds politically.

2) The dog whistles about food stamps. Uh, hello. The economy, as you are content to tell us every two seconds, is still in a terrible shape. Naturally lots of people are dependent right now on some amount of government subsidies and handouts, or charities if not that. Creating jobs for them is a) not a task the government is particularly good at in the first place (also something Republicans are content to tell us, except when it is convenient not to) and b) will take a while for the labour markets to clear and for most people to find or invent jobs for themselves. That means you still have to deal with the probability of high levels of public suffering in the short term. If you want to whine about unemployment insurance and food stamps as opposed to some more efficient government backstop to create a social safety net (wage insurance as in Germany is one option, as is a negative income tax or general cash transfers instead of food stamps and housing assistance), be my guest. I also think you'll have to overlook that there's an implicit marginal tax rate on people trying to break out of poverty and into marginally better lives for themselves that's extremely high. Food stamps are one of the few government programmes that takes this into account and phases itself out. But most everything else does not, meaning there's a huge hit in actual income and thus a return to an impoverished status even if wages are increased. And meanwhile this is all being brought up so you can score points with the same aggrieved white people who were complaining about welfare queens and now equally mythical hordes of illegal immigrants stealing public services? Kind of cheap if you ask me. Find something better to talk about. You're supposed to be smart Newt. Show me.

3) Ire and glee surrounding Tim Tebow's rises and falls. I don't care that much about football for starters. But what I do know is this
a) Quarterbacks are rarely that important to team success. Tebow for instance could not have done much to prevent the Patriots from scoring 45 points. Hence, his success was generally overrated and the level of attention undeserved. This is not a Tebow-related problem. Few quarterbacks are very good enough to provide a substantial impact on their team's ability to win games (there might be 5 or 6 such players in the league), and even there there are arguments concerning the system of offense being employed to maximize their skills, the level of protection they receive from linemen and so on. Tebow's reputation also benefits from a change in scheme which preferred Denver's strong running game over his mediocre passing skills (and allowed them to rest their defense by running the clock and controlling the ball, especially at altitude at home), a relatively weak schedule and a terrible division, and most of their challenging games being played at home (two of which they lost big, Detroit and New England, and two they barely won, Chicago and Pittsburgh over banged up teams). Point being, don't pay attention to quarterbacks. The media will do that for you.
b) He deserves credit for his actions off the field, though he's hardly alone in being a charitable and giving person in the sports world. Many sports figures do not attract or desire attention for so doing, or they do so in less public ways. Shaq used to go into a Wal-Mart and pay for the next 10-15 people in line, as but one example (he also volunteered as a cop for a while). One may argue this is different than visiting with sick and dying people and showering them with attention, but there are plenty of athletes who do the latter. Or who visit with young children and encourage them to read, etc. Public services undertaken by famous people is nice. But I'm not sure it should be regarded as special or even unusual. They have means, and they use them in a manner they see fit. That should be enough.
c) nobody should care very much about his religious views. Including religious people. The number of football players who will pray or point to the sky or cross themselves in a religious manner after a successful play is enormous. This suggests that there's hardly a dearth of such faithful gestures.The implication is either 1) Christians are being persecuted for the faith in our society. I'd like to know where I can sign up for this war on religion draft board personally. Because I haven't seen any evidence of this. or 2) that there aren't very many such people in athletics, or the country more broadly. I'm fairly confident that Christianity is still the dominant social-cultural more in our society, even if it suffers from infighting and theological division. It also isn't really going away anytime soon. One reason most people, even atheists like me, "don't like" Tebow is that he can't throw a football very well and thus he's received outsized credit for his team's successes (and to some extent, outsized blame for their failures). But the main reason is that he's been adopted or anointed by the same persecution complex and holier than thou people that we despise and find annoying in our society when he doesn't appear to actually want such attention, think of himself as holier than thou or as persecuted. He seems more interested in being a "good" person and a modestly successful person who gives back their own attention and money and time to others in need. These are often associated strongly with being Christian. But they're not exclusive to said community. Leave him the fuck alone I say. Quit trying to put people in your fights that don't belong there. You're the same idiots who didn't read Jefferson and Madison and thus think there's no "separation of church and state" in the Constitution because the literal phrase doesn't appear. I'd hate to think what you would do if you could revise history so fully in every sphere of life as you appear to want to do, but when you're injecting these turf wars over social features into otherwise meaningless things like a football game, it's getting really irritating for everyone. I hate to tell you this, but I can't imagine your god cares who actually wins these football games. Vegas does. And that's it. They are ultimately games. Not some special method of arbitrating political and social issues.

SuperPAC Go!

As amusing as the Colbert SuperPac (sorry, the definitely not coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC) is, and as ridiculous as some of the lax system of enforcement appears to be, I don't think this really points out a problem.

Or rather, what it points out is that we should just get rid of the pretext and let the candidates spend and coordinate money as it comes in (while external forces can always spend their own money). What the difference needs to be is transparency. We know, more or less, who is giving to these PACs. Same deal with campaigns.

As far as the actual issues, I was not as alarmed as it appears most people were with the Citizens United decision that kicked all this fuss off. There are a number of reasons
1) It increased access to speech, not limited it to corporate money. Unions and non-profit corporations can now run advertisements all they want during elections. Corporations could always run advertising and editorials by purchasing media companies. Personally, freedom of speech generally should always trump freedom of press specifically. Limiting speech to powerful media corporations to determine the range of opinions and topics that are free for public consumption was never a good idea.
2) Money is speech. It is required to have funds to purchase airtime, distribute information, and so on. Occupy Wall Street type protest movements may be fun, but they also just ran out of money and hence, their speech is somewhat limited. Should people agree with their basic message, they could continue donating money to fund it. I would have no problem with that even if they used the money to pay for ads or tv slots agitating against the government or against particular members of it (or against particular corporations). That is their right to exercise said speech. I disagree with their proposed solutions in almost all cases, but they're at least on to something with topics like income inequality and corporate-government capture issues.
3) Corporations are legally speaking people, endowed with a particular set of protected rights by governments that observe their creation and destruction. But that wasn't the basis of SCOTUS's ruling in the first place. The basis was that the government isn't supposed to be in the business of restricting speech. Period. As a counter experiment, suppose we were to decide that the 4th amendment did not apply to corporations (as liberals wish the first amendment not to). This would mean that the private property of a corporate building, be it a factory or office building or warehouse, could be searched and seized without warrant or due process. And this could include, since many corporations have set aside storage and so forth for their employees' private property, that property as well. We are already strangely assenting to letting police search school property and confiscate goods belonging to students (usually illicit goods, but sometimes regular medication, etc). Is it next fine to do the same to employees at a private business? Back to the actual topic. Where is it okay then to restrict the speech of a collection of people? It is perhaps true that not all workers and employees will favor the same set of politics as the corporation and its masters direct. But at the moment, there is also no restriction for them to organise into unions and to use the union to publicize those views, or to give privately to opposing political organisations (Greenpeace or the ACLU for example).
4) Citizens United and Super PACs generally are a topic relating to election funding. Certainly most of the general public pays more attention to politics when there is an election ongoing. But. For example, I have encountered numerous people who knew nothing of the SOPA protests or even the bill itself until google went black on its site today, wikipedia went dark, and lots of people started posting links and strange photos on facebook. And this is with a Presidential election coming up later this year. Most people do not in fact pay much attention to politics as it actually happens. They have little desire to do so and spend little effort to do it. The actual machinery of governance that is troubled is not elections. It is legislating. Huge corporate lobbies are behind all manner of legislation. From SOPA to the health care bill to those stupid anti-Shariah law bills all over the country. I am not horribly troubled by this, in so far as they are involved in the process and air their objections or support for bills that come up. I am troubled when the actual bills are designed and written by said lobbies and rubber stamped by legislatures who don't spend much time actually considering the power they will wield with said bills. Most of Congress has little more of an understanding on how SOPA would work than they did with the PATRIOT act. This should be disturbing, far more so than the influence of corporations on what advertisements we see during an election campaign.

So while the Colbert bump against this sort of speech, and the attending ridiculous hoops we go through to make something at least mostly legal, is certainly amusing. And to many people hopefully enlightening in the manner and influence of money on politics, I'm not sure there's a conclusive end point to it either. It doesn't deal with the methods of regulation and sausage making involved in actually governing a country, which is where influence actually matters. Elections are like changing the drapes (and usually not even that. It's more like thinking about changing the drapes). Legislation is like ripping up the foundation and remodeling, by analogy. The useless focus on elections is overdone I should think as a result.

16 January 2012

We get it Rick

And so now Perry has gone on air and record as saying that peeing on dead people that you've presumably killed, videotaping it with some pride, is a harmless teenage prank that should be penalized with something under "removing this person from the service of the military".

Meanwhile. In other news, CNN's arbitrary rules on polling and fundraising which were used in various turns to try to exclude Gary Johnson from its GOP debates (but to include Jon Huntsman, who often polled similarly poorly, along with Santorum at times too)... are now being bypassed to allow Rick Perry to continue to attend said debates.

I have to wonder what the hell goes on at CNN. Being as I don't watch it. At this point, in order to get news and information from anything resembling a cable news organisation, either from its airtime or its webpages, one must generally go to either the BBC or Al Jazeera to find reliable and informative pieces and coverage. Even for stories in America. What possible basis could there be for continuing to cover Rick Perry other than that the man is clearly a deranged lunatic who will say strange things and generate ratings? Why is that news that there are deranged lunatics in politics who say strange things?

Why not just leave that to Jon Stewart or the Onion?

The world of radicals

Sometimes I am given to wonder whether I have not embraced too many radical views; atheism, libertarianism (or economics more generally), and foreign policy realism.

And then I see pictures and video clips of American troops pissing on the corpses of their fallen enemies in a war that has clearly outlived its usefulness (going in country to capture or kill international criminals and their co-conspirators), rumblings of another useless war in Iran, the continued persecution of non-violent drug offenders, often accompanied with powerful armed home invasions by the authorities, the embrace of some significant portion of Christian conservatives (however briefly) of the views of Rick Santorum on the legality and morality of birth control , to say nothing of his views on homosexuals (or for that matter, the views of Rick Perry), the possible passage of SOPA and the passage of still more legal circumventions of civil rights protections in the form of indefinite detention regimes in the Defense bill.

And I think to myself. What a wonderful world.

10 January 2012

A bright spot

Maybe a speck. Depending on how it turns out.

But this has been a very interesting Supreme Court session for civil libertarians, among other reasons.

For free speech and TV censorship
Related (though an IP issue), extension of copyright laws into public domain

GPS warrant tracking, the effects of new technology on the 4th amendment

Interpretations of search warrants by field officers conducting the searches, or rather how broad those interpretations should be.

Suing private prison officials for violations of prisoner rights, in federal courts.  (this one was already decided, and held that existing torts should have been sufficient claims in lower courts. Kind of a meh solution as the guy was in on federal charges.)
Related to above, strip searching new inmates

The effects of ineffective legal representation on criminal penalties

There's also a cert out on a drug dogsniffing case and establishments of probable cause searches. (Finally).

Something that should never quite be forgotten is how often some rather scummy people (criminals) can help define and even protect or expand the rights and privileges enjoyed by everyone else. We see it working very often in the other direction as the hasty fallout of a criminal actor is often allowed to press politicians and public figures to advocate for more egregious penalties and invasive methods. Every once in a while, it goes the other way.

Thanks criminals.

09 January 2012

A political curiosity

I'm not sure what the big deal has been for the last two decades about "the middle class". Here is a short list of things the middle class already gets from the government as assistance:
Financial aid for college tuitions
Access to decent public schools for preparation for colleges
Mortgage interest deductions to subsidize home values (and make that inflated value available for loans)
Retirement accounts with favorable tax treatment (ROTHs, 401ks I'm less sure about).
Social Security and Medicare mostly flow to people with at least the modest means of the middle class, if not the rich or wealthy outright.
And this all results in:
Relative social mobility, both individuals and generationally, relatively steady incomes in stable jobs or easily transferable jobs skills, in all cases much more substantially so than that available to the poor.

What has changed, and what appears to be the reason it keeps coming up, is that there are now far fewer private unionized workers, particularly in manufacturing. But there are plenty of cops, teachers, nurses, skilled tradesmen, computer programmers, salespeople and so on who can fill in that void. Not to mention professional class incomes like lawyers or doctors or modestly successful salesmen/self-employed businessmen (who are not really "middle class" but all like to think of themselves as such). I personally don't see any particular reason why work in a factory should have been an automatic qualifier for middle class lifestyles and incomes in the first place (most of it is unskilled work requiring training, but not certification). But leaving that aside, the problem isn't really the "middle class" going away. The problem is access to middle class lifestyles is more difficult to acquire, particularly if one is poor.

We have as obstacles:
Poor public school systems with minimal to no training for college preparation. Few, if any, underserved neighbourhoods are putting kids in Harvard or Yale level institutions. Affirmative action seems more like a problem relating to poverty than race as a result (which sounds closer to the MLK ideal for it).
Licensing laws and certification for the most absurd protectionist justifications by existing players in a field or industry. Barbers and interior decorators should not need state sanction to operate. Doctors or teachers even have very tenuous arguments in favor of such sanctions (which I do not find persuasive, but many do).
Criminal penalties and enforcement strategies which lock up many poor people for trivial criminal behaviors (use or distribution of narcotics or other vice crimes like prostitution), further limiting access to development resources like education, damaging an existing family structures, and creating criminal records making it harder to acquire modest occupations.
Limited incomes and scarce resources that must be properly allocated according to a middle class set of values for advancement, without the knowledge of how that must be done, and in a situation of scarcity such that pooling and in-group loyalties must often take precedence over prudent sets of values concerning narrow self-advancement.

All of which creates a cycle of poverty that is difficult to escape. 

In other words. I won't vote for politicians who drone on about the "middle class" or even "middle-income Americans", the bizarre Republican circumlocution version of the same thing. Perhaps there are real and tangible threats existing to the middle class' future as an institutional element of society. Most of those threats could be best alleviated however by properly dealing with the threats posed by poverty. The middle class, while not in possession of substantial resources, has enough available to deal with itself in more or less a sustainable way on its own. It is the poor who do not, and more importantly, do not have even enough to advance. Handing out more and more favors to special middle class interests is certainly a favored election tactic, for both parties, not just the expected Democrats.

But it is not a solution to the problems involved with the future of the middle class. So quit talking about it. Thanks.

06 January 2012

So there's that awful thing

Facebook timeline.

So far as I can tell (since I haven't yet played with it, but it appears to be moving forward as a new edition)

1) It makes Facebook look like MySpace. Which is not an improvement. MySpace was hideous and lacked any utilitarian aesthetics. Which I enjoy. This makes me wish Google+ was more popular. (And reminds me of the line of "Windows 7 is much more user-friendly than Windows Vista. I don't like that."). I'll assume they will eventually screw with the wall too, but I plan on mostly continuing to use the wall and ignoring the arduous task of perusing personal profiles.

2) It apparently requires several hours of self-censorship and regression through however many years one used it in order to make a profile as presentable as the present version. Which sounds like giving everyone a "job" rather than a sensible way to update the network. I'm not sure, in my opinion, that my most important posts were the ones that everyone commented on or liked. For example. In my case, since a lot of information is concealed or simply not provided at all, I will have somewhat less work than others. The most pertinent information I've made available are quotations or my preferences of culture. Religious or political views are made obvious from what I post. Any actual personal information is pretty limited in who can see it and who will be able to still see it even after this shift goes mandatory. So at best I'll be filtering photos or posts by other people about me, or something.

3) On my screen, the upper bar doesn't fully display. I'll be generous and assume that this is a glitch that would be fixed or a setting I could adjust. This could be related to the image sizing elements of FB more broadly being whacked by timeline however.

4) It appears to be popular enough that most people will just go along with it and/or like it. So either deal with it or move on.

5) Apparently if you want to keep the old school version, use IE7. Except that I haven't used MSIE in over a decade, I don't see a problem with that scenario...

04 January 2012

Fallout, two.

It looks like the only thing that was settled by Iowa was the dropping out of two long since meaningless candidacies (Perry and Bachmann) (Update: Perry hasn't, yet, suspended his campaign. This will suffice to complicate Romney's delegate totals but will dig mostly into Gingrich or Santorum's possibilities. I'm not sure what possible service his continued candidacy serves really other than to continue to have someone fun to make fun of involved). While I imagine Santorum will get a bump of sorts from doing as well as he did in Iowa, I have no illusions that he can successfully organise a significant and sustainable resistance movement to the irresistible object that is now a Romney nomination. The man (Santorum) has a more vigorous foreign policy agenda with paranoid assertions about Muslims as his main non-social conservative selling point in an election about the economy and against an incumbent President whose main area of perceived success is foreign policy AND lacks the charismatic and practised and polished delivery of his message that a similar candidate in Mike Huckabee had 4 years ago (albeit with less paranoid foreign policy rhetoric and positions as a candidate. Pundit Huckabee has indulged freely in fact-free paranoia). Which means that his google-recognized status as a world-class asshole is in no danger of being violated. He's also, like Huckabee, no stranger to invoking anti-individualism and especially to use statist power in the economy to favor the politically connected, which while popular with many conservatives, is not especially popular with either Romney-ites and particularly the Paul controlled wings of the party (Romney types like this, but prefer to do it more subtly than the Santorum-laced pro-middle class rants)

I submit that media imagination surrounding Santorum is primarily there to do two things:

1) Ignore the difficult and thought-provoking debate questions posed by a possible Ron Paul candidacy and levels of support that he now enjoys. Media types hate debates and asking questions that invite actual answers.

2) Continue the illusion of a horse race scenario worthy of media attention. I suppose it is possible that Santorum or Gingrich wins South Carolina. Gingrich might even be able to make a play for Florida (Santorum cannot, social conservatives tend to do poorly there and New Hampshire. It's a weird southern state apparently). But that's sounding a lot like the Giuliani strategy, and it depends on his being able to not implode himself into becoming the butt of a series of knock knock jokes. But after that, the only plausible non-Romney scenario is a broken convention where he doesn't get enough delegates. He's going to do reasonably well out West now that there's no McCain out there to muck things up, in Michigan and some of the other rust belt states, probably better than Santorum in Pennsylvania even if it came to that, New England, and basically everywhere but the Deep South and a couple of prairie states. That might be a core enough to meddle in the number of delegates, if, and only if, the anti-Romney vote decides to merge behind a Santorum candidacy. And that would be insane. So I don't expect it to happen. Even the paranoid fantasy of a Gingrich fueled primary was bad enough a delusion. The media really needs to give it up and admit that this race is long since over.

I would note that in the person of Eric Erickson BOTH of these delusions were entertained. Which was uproariously funny.

Firstly, Erickson claimed that the GOP record turnout was false because "Ron Paul voters" were not Republicans. It is true that Paul claimed a substantial portion of the non-GOP/independent/Democratic voters who turned out. Something like 40%. But that portion of the vote was somewhere around 25%, which puts Paul's share of it around 10% of the total vote at best/worst. Which means Erickson must account for roughly 10-12% of the usual conservative/Republican electorate that turned out to support Paul (much as they did in 2008), assuming that all of the "independents" are normally either Libertarians or Democrats (which is a huge assumption). He has no desire to do so, because it would require him to grapple with the idea that national security and civil liberties issues relating to the war on terror, war on drugs, or foreign wars/occupations all desired by his preferred candidacies (Perry I believe was his guy), are not simple troupes where the Democrats are weaklings (Obama certainly hasn't been) and Republicans tough-minded and doing the necessary deeds. When it is clearly not that simple (and the Obama apology tour line or the ACLU running the CIA one have been WAY overplayed). Further complicating Erickson's bizarro world, Paul's voters self-identified as among the "most conservative" and as among the most trusted on "deficits" as a basis for their votes. Are these not core elements of GOP rhetorical support? I guess they are not as important in real terms to conservatives as abortion or tax cuts nor of expressing virulent hatred of Obama/Democrats/liberals or of Muslims/Iran/"anti-anything goes in Israel" types.

But that's hardly news.

It would be noteworthy to observe that large numbers of Paul's voters were in the under 30 range. He dominated that portion of the vote. Those voters may not show up at the general election for the GOP without some portions of the Paul agenda on the ballot, as happened last election Paul supporters vote for Paul-supported candidates or Paul himself but not the mainstream Republican. Which is a problem for the GOP in a close race, especially with more Paul supporters out there. But also, and perhaps more significant, writing them off as though they are "not Republicans" ignores the need for the party to generate a youth movement for future levels of support. Eventually all these seniors and retiring businessmen who are apparently terrified of gays and Muslims and Medicare cuts are going to die. And Republicans will have... what exactly as a core voter at the national level? Abortion as sole issue concerned voters (Isn't that almost what they already have)? While I don't particularly care if their party survives as such, I have few illusions that its demise would mean the arrival of a stronger libertarian movement enough to become a major player. Which would leave us with Democrats running things. Which is, clearly, little better on most issues of importance. Reform is needed, and while Paul isn't really my cup of chicken soup for the soul, maybe it is for some conservatives. Paul also did very well with lower incomes. Suggesting Santorum's economic populism message is rendered effectively irrelevant. Part of this is that Paul did very well with younger voters of course, who are naturally, in lower income brackets by effect of their newer working lives. But it would be well for Republicans to consider adding some poor people and some younger voters and Paul seems able to attract them in greater numbers and enthusiasm than other candidates.

In the related humorous front, Erickson, because presumably his horse is run out of the race and he, like many conservatives, now dislikes the entire field, continues to press the possibility of another late entrant into the primary field. There are serious logistical problems with this delusion (getting one's name on ballots has already shown itself to be difficult for everyone but Romney and Paul) and it presumes that there is a GOP candidate on the bench who could raise substantial funding and support in short order to compete. I don't see that there is one such person. Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, even Bobby Jindal or Marco Rubio have been floated as names. None of them will run because none of them have expressed interest in running (I can't speak to Jindal's position, but after his strange volcano speech a couple years ago, I doubt it). None of them has a fusionist perspective that resonates with the base of voters. Daniels has a record of it, but not a rhetoric. Christie upsets the libertarians and/or social conservatives. Ryan has legislative baggage in the form of medicare cuts and support for TARP, Bush is a Bush. Rubio is a useless token piece in an election on economics rather than immigration or foreign policy and is basically an empty shell for John McCain fans to be loaded onto as it is, and so on. .

So however amusing it is to speculate, speculations that do not readily conform to reality should be dismissed as ranting and raving by uninformed lunatics, and not proper opinion journalism of the sort Erickson and others are presumably employed to provide.

This is all very amusing to the outside observer. What seems pretty clear from here is that there are at least two factions which control enough of the GOP electorate to dominate a nomination: social conservatives and business conservatives (corporatists). Both of these groups should have long since coalesced around Huntsman, who has an actual record as governor backing both groups on most issues (not all, but most). Apparently a temperament of "reasonable dialogue" in politics is so off-putting that that didn't happen. Which is pretty sad. Huntsman was probably the single most dangerous opponent for an Obama candidacy (if not the most interesting debates, Paul wins that by a mile) and I would have preferred a more competitive election cycle. There's no particular reason I should favor a GOP candidate over Obama (I see both parties as greater evils than throwing my vote away on a third party in most years already), but I also don't see any particular reason that Obama should deserve re-election. Surely in such an environment, it would have been possible to find and fund better candidates than this if one is the GOP?

If they were really that committed to disliking both Obama and Romney, then I'd have to say they're not demonstrating it.

03 January 2012

The world of 2012

January first week edition.

I don't have much to say on the rise of Santorum in Iowa. As in, like the rise of the others before him, it will amount to nothing. And indeed, in Santorum's case, appears to be much more limited to the cocoon-like isolated commune of Iowan Republican caucus goers, a more socially conservative bunch than most, and no where else. I still say good luck with Mitt Romney to any conservatives I encounter. I'd be impressed if they pick Paul, because it would finally cause some people on both sides of the political aisles to have head exploding thoughts about their team affiliations and could create some interesting Presidential debates for a change, but it won't happen. The sooner Iowa and New Hampshire are over, and the sooner one or more of the zeitgeist bots (Perry-Gingrich-Bachmann) is eliminated by doing poorly in South Carolina, the sooner I can ignore them all. The only things I will say on Santorum in particular is that he's a big government type, and that he has a paranoid and absurd vision of how foreign policy (and history in general) operates. Sadly, that foreign policy vision isn't too much distinct from other conservatives (or for that matter, Obama).

If there is anything cogent to say about his rise in Iowa, it would suggest, as I've long maintained, that Tea Party types on the ground are not libertarians. They are social conservatives in costumes who have no real interest in limited government and zero interest in individualism or protected rights of individual autonomy. No serious libertarian-based movement could have taken a look at Gingrich or Santorum or Bachmann and said, "hey, that's alright". Much less given Gingrich a second look. So they need to back the fuck off with that because that's bullshit that I'm tired of hearing about.

Basic tenet for this election cycle. I don't see any reason to start a war with Iran, but all the rhetoric and bluster is not surprising. From both sides. It's a little scarier coming from our side than when they conduct a naval exercise and blow things up in a public way. Nobody comments when we do this. I suppose also their "don't bring that carrier in here" quip is annoying. But it's not like they could actually prevent it without starting a war. Which they do not want. What they want is the trade restrictions to be eased or removed. Considering there is now some back channel pressure from China and other trade partners, I'd say that we will see some sort of quid pro quo here without a war but with plenty of polluted rhetoric from both sides to say "see, those people are crazy!" I'm not sure that anything else in the political debate circles will actually matter or change substantially based on who wins other than rhetoric on Iran and possible courses of action pursued once in office toward Iran and their (at present) mythical nuclear programme.

This was a fascinating topic.  Essentially what we are concerned with therein is whether the "freedom of press" applies to the particular industry of media versus the printed word. I view this as unlikely, newspapers were common in parts of colonial America, but distribution of pamphlet literature was a much more common effort. It would seem that the printed word enjoyed its own legal protections separated from the spoken word (where speeches used to be a form of social gathering sometimes lasting several hours). The particular industry of press media was a novel innovation, which certainly enjoyed much proliferation in colonial America, but I don't see why the Constitution would see fit to provide it alone with a significant protection over and above the writings and publications of other citizens. Control by states over printing presses (and now the Internet as a new "printed word" medium) has a long and ugly history. It was a tool employed by Catholic dominated regions of Germany to try to suppress Luther's Reformation texts (unsuccessfully because Luther's pamphlets sold so well that printers often went to great lengths to acquire the rights to print them). Totalitarian regimes throughout the world have destroyed or suppressed books written by "subversives". It is not enough to provide a justification that the state shall give this freedom to a particular industry (the "press"), but not equate the means of distribution of ideas to others. I would imagine this means that "the press" should enjoy somewhat less privileged status than it does, or conversely, that the public has a greater role in asking and demanding questions of their leaders or public figures. A role that it typically ignores.